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October 2016
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What did Arsenal do to bring about this turnaround?

By Tony Attwood

If you are a regular reader you will know that about once every couple of weeks I point out that the reason England don’t win tournaments is nothing to do with quotas and the number of youngsters in the Premier League, but instead to do with the coaching.

Then, because modesty is not my most obvious characteristic, I add that I first provided the detailed analysis that proves this case on 9 June 2010 in an article on Untold.

Then I point out that the Daily Telegraph ran a version of this piece in August 2013, without acknowledging my work.   Since then others have jumped on the bandwagon, and today the Guardian are there too – although to be fair, they are not taking the same route as me, so no allegation about work nicking.

The piece is question is “England’s pain healed with better coaches, not the quotas of Greg Dyke” and is written by Paul Wilson the football correspondent of the Observer newspaper.

Now I go through all this again, not because I like pointing out how clever I am (although actually I do) but rather because Paul Wilson comes out with a very interesting opening paragraph:

Manuel Pellegrini has just admitted Manchester City’s lavishly funded football academy is unlikely to produce a first-team player during his time at the club. José Mourinho has made similar comments in the past, with John Terry remaining Chelsea’s last home-grown player despite a huge financial commitment to youth facilities.

It raises an interesting point: what players do we count as academy players?   I mean, how old or young do you have to be to be counted as academy.

Jack Wilshere is an academy player.  He joined aged nine.  That’s easy.

But what of Aaron Ramsey?  He came to us aged 17.  So did Coquelin.  Is that too old?  What of Zelalem?  He came at 16.  So did Bellerin.   Are these the people we are thinking about when we talk of academies?

My point is that such 16 and 17 year olds still have it all to do, to reach the very top level, and they need the very best training and development – which is what Arsenal gives them.

But still many fall by the wayside, and each year we say farewell to players who look like they might have made it, but didn’t.

Arsenal does a lot to develop young players even if they don’t come through to be great Arsenal players. Look at Benik Afobe.  He joined Arsenal reserves when he was six, never played for Arsenal, but was nurtured through his early years, and eventually sold to Wolverhampton where he appears to have played 17 games and scored 11 goals.  Not bad for a 22 year old.

The Guardian article says

The challenge to anyone who believes otherwise is to answer the question of why the academies are not producing first-team players. They are not short of funding or facilities, they have been in situ long enough, there are plenty of hopeful aspirants. So where are the players? How come when Gerrard leaves none of the Liverpool first team will speak with a scouse accent? What happened to Manchester United’s youth development programme after the class of ’92?

The answer is that we are producing first class players in the academies, but many of the youngsters move around at 16 not six years of age, in order to find the right place to go and get development.  And we are part of the EU so they are free to come here.

And therefore those places they choose – like Arsenal – are multinational places, quite rightly.

The reality is that the notion of internationals is outmoded and outdated, based on a model of nationalism that has moved on and been by-passed.   As we’ve said here before, the fact that a player can play for England without being born in England, or indeed without actually having been to England, is all a bit daft.

This season, Arsenal has produced two brilliant youngsters for our team: Coquelin and Bellerin.  Next season we’ll probably see another one – if we are lucky two more.   Whether any of them are English or not is irrelevant, not least because as I’ve so often said, you don’t have to be English to play for England.  Zelalem for example had a choice of various countries he could play for – and could have added England to that list if he had wanted to.  Many other young men are in the same position.

The only question worth asking is who those two new top players emerging from the academy are going to be.   Gnabry was superb before his injury that took him out of this season.  Zelalem looks to be wonderful – but one never knows until he steps up.

And maybe there are others there to surprise us.

The academy system is working.  It just isn’t producing young men who can play for England that’s all.  And that’s not our problem.   Arsenal is doing its bit to bring through wonderful players who entertain us.  It would be unreasonable to ask for anything else.


The books

23 comments to What did Arsenal do to bring about this turnaround?

  • insideright

    Last summer Ivan Gazidis stated (at the annual fans forum at The Emirates) that the long term plan was to produce 50% of the first team squad through the Clubs acedemy system. A further 25% would come from other clubs but still as teenagers that Arsenal would ‘develop-on’. That leaves only 25% bought in, off the shelf, as established stars.
    He may have said this in order to give the new Academy coaches a morale boost and to justify the investment levels that were announced much later. But whatever is the case it’s certainly in stark contrast to the likes of Man City or chelsea who actually announced more than ten years ago that they would become financially self sufficient not least as a result of producing their own players rather than relying on the transfer market. As was pointed out in the article Chelsea, since John Terry, have produced precisely no one from their own ranks; English or otherwise.

  • Rich

    Few topics in football seem to bring out childishness in fans as debates/arguments about youth players and what constitutes one of your ‘own’, and yet I can’t imagine any serious fan being able to avoid getting involved.

    I’ve always broken it down into two stages of development : up to 16; after 16. And so anyone who joins at that age-16- I consider as being, should they make it, a player from our academy. Quite obviously, vital development has taken place before that stage, so there’s credit due to someone else for that, but at the same time that move, from being talented 16 year old, to someone playing top level first team football seems the biggest step of all. The evidence is pretty clear that we are doing something very right with those players, while our rivals aren’t.

    It’s little short of spectacular that, at present, no one has made it through from either Chelsea or City since the billionaires came to town. There can be no doubt that their recruiting of players at 16 from Europe is of a similar standard to our own, so then it becomes a matter of ‘what gives?’, ‘what’s happening?’

    The answer is probably pretty straightforward- when you tend to have two big signings for each position, typically internationals on huge contracts, that, in combination with highly demanding owners who want instant success and will sack when it doesn’t come, is as sure a recipe as you’ll get for not playing youngsters. They continue to flock to those clubs, but for how long? Another few years of this and any reasonably savvy and knowledgeable young player, or parent, should not be able to ignore the remoteness of likelihood they will be able to break through at the club they are joining. There would remain the get-out of ‘yeah, almost certainly can’t happen there, but I’ll still develop well and can then move on’, but that hardly seems the best option for anyone starting out, especially if they have alternative options of joining clubs with a strong record of both developing players, and giving them first-team chances.

    We shall see. My hunch is that Chelsea will actually do it next year- they will play some of the talented youngsters they have, albeit only where it feels relatively safe to do so- if they win the league, as they are likely to, this year. Mourinho just couldn’t risk it this time around. Two years without a title would have meant he only had one more year there, a year in which, again, there’d have been no way he could risk it. So i feel we’ll see 3-5 of them get at least a few games in the early months, and that there’s a chance at least one will take their opportunity.

    Interestingly, it seems hard to deny both Bellerin and Coquelin would have had far fewer chances, in the latter’s case quite possibly no chance, without injuries this year. Bellerin I’m confident would have played a bit- he was amazing against Benfica pre-season- but I’m not sure a fit Debuchy would at any point have lost his place for anything but a brief rest.

    It’s hard to ignore that we are now more or less in the same position as the billionaires’ toys- we have at least two quality options for every position- and yet i remain confident Wenger will not let this block off youth. More likely it’s the senior guys who should be a bit worried. With the club seemingly gaining in health month by month or even week by week, competition may be increasing but so in fact is the platform for any youngster who gets a run. Coming into a strong team can only improve a youngster’s chance of impressing, Wenger remains someone intensely keen to reward players flying at youth level with a chance : it’s a recipe for one or two more to join Bellerin and Coquelin in the near future.

  • Nonny

    Nice Article Tony.

    The issue is that it’s not the clubs business to develop talent for the country. The FA needs to device means to get players for England.

    Unfortunately, this beautiful Job AW and Arsenal are doing in bringing and developing young talent are been undermined by our aaa. They want already made superstars without knowing the value of the home grown talent at our disposal. Suppose Coq were to be playing for another PL side, aaa will be clamoring for his purchase, yet as he is from our academy, he is been underated. Also if Bellarin were to be purchased to day, how much would he worth (especially with his home grown status). May be £15m – £20m.

  • GoingGoingGooner

    Are we saying that no players from the Chelsea academy are playing professionally or just in the Premier League? It would seem incredible that none of the players that they hoovered up over the last 10 years and shipped out have made it.

  • omgarsenal

    England would be well advised to study Southhampton and Arsenal’s youth development system and create a model like the French did in Bloemfontein. It isn’t that we lack young talent for the national team, but that their attitudes to playing for England are so blasé and indifferent that they resemble spoilt brats rather than professional Footballers. I watched England play Italy in the world cup and felt that it was a friendly between the Azores and Polynesia….I fell asleep and only woke up when summertime rolled around!!!
    Here in Canada we lack top class coaches and proper training facilities, as well as a very short training season but England cannot use any of those excuses to justify their paucity of success. Apparently the Chinese are starting to pump money and resources into Football and recruiting top coaches to train their players. Football is still a small sport in China but watch out if they ever get really serious about the game. The US has taken it seriously and present improving teams each year….England had better get rid of their FA dinosaurs and start renewing their commitment to the Game.

  • Sav from Australia

    I think at this point Arsenal is more of a finishing school.

    As for nationalism, I have heard its on the up. France, Germany, Italy, Denmark…stories abound. But thats off topic and only in response to one sentence in the post.

  • Andrew Crawshaw

    Arsenal have a very large number of young English players from the age of 8 upwards. The squad for the recent Al Kaas competition for U17s (I think) was made up players in this category, as are the U18 squad. The U21 group features more international players who tend to come in at 16 or 17 for the second phase development. the ladies team also benefits with equivalent player development.

    Top level players of the type that Arsenal (or Englnd for that matter) require probably represent little more than 1 or 2% of the total number of professional footballers and if any single academy can produce more than one every other year they are doing something very well indeed.

    Arsenal have a number of supremely talented youngsters in their Academy who, with luck and application are likey to make it as professional footballers, hopefully some will make it into the Arsenal first team in the next few years. There is another U21 game at the Emirates next Monday, if you can go along to see some of them for yourselves. The game this last Monday against Stoke finished 4-1 to Arsenal albeit with Arteta and Wilshere playing.

  • Andrew Crawshaw

    I think the key for top sportsmen and women in any field is for them to have the hunger/drive to succeed by pushing themselves to the absolute limit. The problem for young players seems to come at the 17 to 18 stage when they are starting to be paiid a decent sum of money and other distractions, girls, cars, drink etc start to get their attention. In many third world countries, the same kinds of distractions don’t seem to be so prevalent as football represents the best chance of personal advancement.

  • nicky

    Sometimes I feel that a change of air, team, coaching, town,
    tactics will bring forth success in a player.
    One of my memories is of Ray Kennedy, an Arsenal striker par excellence. I’m not sure but I don’t think he was an international while at Arsenal. He moved to Liverpool, was converted into a
    a/mf and won many caps from that position.
    And I’m sure there are other examples.

  • Rich


    A few have certainly made it (from Chelsea)- Bertrand, PSV centre back who may have Dutch cap now. Mceachran, Bamford and Chalobah will have careers, maybe good ones; the French kid who was a stellar talent and caused all the fuss is..somewhere on his umpteenth loan; the kid they broke Celtic’s heart (they’d helped him secure asylum and he promptly left soon after) over has lost all momentum but may yet have a career somewhere.

    But no, overall, it’s pretty damn poor at the moment.

    I read in one book that the scouting world has a term for players with a particular attitude : Chelseaitis. Think it referred to players struggling at that breakthrough stage, having typically gone there for money, been well coached within a particular culture, and then having problems adapting in the big bad world of senior football outside the prem.

  • Menace

    Well the answer to your question Tony is we listened to the wonderful intelligent Piers Morgan. He knows everything about it all.

    Now that you’ve stopped laughing, Wenger is the key to all the success including the infrastructure. His foresight to build a training complex to ensure structured training & recovery of all his players is primary requirement for success. The secondary stadium to ensure funding for the future with state of the art facilities to maximise the revenue of success on the pitch. His gradual improvement of team is critical & the results can be seen in both player relationship & understanding.

    Chelsea have had success with their youth policy in that it allowed them ‘fodder’ to finance their star purchases while keeping within FFP. Their loan strategy is yet to come to fruition with either revenue or quality additions to the team.

    Liverpool suffered during the financial transition from the Moores to the ‘rowing couples’ & subsequent whiff of dishonesty.

    Man United have survived the transition of managers ‘just’. There is a heavy cost of player transition that might stifle their progress.

    City have lost focus for a while with ACN & injuries to key players impacting their teamwork.

    Arsenal have had to cope with PGMO & the specialists in interpretation of Laws. Despite that, & the media, football has come home to roost at the Wenger Stadium. Football that is watched by all those who love the game.

    It is rare in the life of this game that success can be measured by both structured financial progress & beautiful football in a truly honest fashion – playing football the Arsenal way.

  • gouresh

    If U want to see grass root football coaching, look at under 7’s or U8’s matches. The coaching is shocking.

  • Notoverthehill

    Tony, my own view is that Fabregas, Rooney and even Wilshere, have justified their early promise, with dedication.

    Too many, who should remain nameless, had the ability, but lacked the application and attitude, to succeed, at the high level?

  • ARSENAL 13

    I think youth policy as a whole has been a success at ARSENAL.

    Number of players in the first team..Wilshere Ramsey Coquelin Ox Theo Bellerin Gnabry Gibbs…all stepping up from the youth systems. Not bad is it. English players in there. So we have not failed. But the rest of England have. Its not only the ARSENALs responsibility, to develop players for England…….

  • para

    Yea, Internationals are passe to me, but can’t see them finishing any time soon.

    @ARSENAL 13

    I think Arsenal will have to do it, that is, create the England team, at least 6 players according to AW. We’re nearing that now.

    At least the facilities are in place at some of the clubs, and as they follow Arsenal’s/Southampton’s example, football in UK will benefit and the England team too. More UK players need to go overseas on loan too when young.

  • GoingGoingGooner

    Yet, the club does not seem satisfied with the academy. We have a new leader there – Andries Jonker has replaced Liam Brady – and the announcements in 2012 seemed to indicate that the club wanted not only new blood but a change of direction, too.

    Oh, to be able to read internal memos, eh?

  • Brickfields Gunners

    What did Arsenal do to bring about this turnaround?
    Everything that is right , legal and proper . As it should be .
    This despite the many traitors in our midst ; those of very little faith and of lesser patience ; as well as all that backstabbing , rumour mongering and bald faced lies .
    Yup ! We smoke only the good stuff !

  • Brickfields Gunners

    “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861)

    How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
    I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
    My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
    For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
    I love thee to the level of everyday’s
    Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
    I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
    I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
    I love thee with a passion put to use
    In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
    I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
    With my lost saints, — I love thee with the breath,
    Smiles, tears, of all my life! — and, if God choose,
    I shall but love thee better after death.

    Proverbs 23:23 – Buy the truth, and sell it not; also wisdom, and instruction, and understanding.

  • ARSENAL 13

    Looking back at Bellerins goal…., how the defender was not balanced and all. And the praise for Bellerin was secondary.

    Yesterday Messi scored a similar goal, almost the same position, similar curl. But Messi gets all the praise for the technique. For opening up the space for himself and all.

  • @Swales1968

    Looking at Bellerins goal the Lpoo player defending stops him going down the right and makes him cut inside on to his weaker left foot. More praise should be given to Bellerin for the goal, a right back who can shoot with his left foot.

  • WalterBroeckx

    Gibbs should take a look at that finish from Bellerin! Am I right Nicky? 😉

  • Va cong

    The defender also thought he wouldn’t shoot and pass the ball instead so left him

  • Andy Mack

    For the British lads ‘Andrew Crawshaw 4:54 pm’ Hit the nail squarely on the head.

    The other point of interest is that in the last 5+ years if some of our senior players had been on their game, we’d have blooded at least 5 more in the TinPot Cup. The youngsters may not have played particularly well in the TinPot Cup games we lost but the seniors under performed which restricted the newbies chances.